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Focused Young Individuals

Art Against Knives launch their latest project to battle youth crime by inviting 30 young and talented artists to exhibit at Vyner Street's Rebel Dining Society

In light of the recent media frenzy over the state of affairs concerning our youth in Britain (high unemployment, rioting and social unrest, university fees) it’s a breath of fresh air to see that very same demographic of people coming together to incite positive change for one another. That is exactly what Art Against Knives have done through their latest enterprising project Focused Young individuals (F.Y.I). The East London based charity has sought out 30 talented young creatives from Hackney and produced a compelling exhibition showcasing their work, which opens in Vyner Street from 6-12 October 2011.

Art Against Knives is a young and creatively based charity, born out of a tragic set of events involving co-founder and art student, Oliver Hemsley, who was left paralysed after an unprovoked and violent attack. The life changing incident spurred Oliver and fellow art student and friend Katy Dawe to set up an organisation that seeks to combat gang crime at grass roots by engaging local youths in a range of artistic endeavours. We had the opportunity to talk with Katy and Kayla Whiting, one of the young people involved in the project, to find out what the exhibition aims achieve and why its role in the local community is so important.

Dazed Digital: How did the idea for the exhibition come about?
Katy Awe:
After the success of our first Exhibition in 2009 that we organised to raise awareness after Oliver was attacked- we realised that all of the incredible support from the creative industry needed to be channeled into supporting young people in London. After spending the last couple of years working closely with the community in east London- we created OurSpace. OurSpace is a template that bridges the gap between the local community and the creative industry that thrives in east London- we believe it is the entire communities responsibility to share resources' and sustain creative opportunities for young people, by young people, providing an alternative to violent gang culture

From work experience in a local advertising agency to donating a blank wall to graffiti on, OurSpace provides a platform from which young people can develop their employability and discover the creative possibilities on their doorstep. By providing a sense of ownership and purpose, we work to bridge the gap created by the influx of development in East London which affects the young people who already live there: a key cause of knife crime. We believe in joining up, not starting something new. OurSpace supports existing youth providers who work successfully with young people on the ground. F.Y.I Photography Exhibition demonstrates how working together creates a higher quality of opportunities and outcomes for young people.

DD: What selection process did you go through when choosing the young people involved?
Katy Dawe:
All of the young people involved in the project are young people that ourselves, YhWorld and Poached Creative work with- they are all incredible examples of young, creative and positive role models to other young people in Hackney. With youth unemployment reaching a new high and the recent London riots rocking Hackney, this exhibition is timely. The partners involved all work with young people, promoting positive and creative opportunities as an alternative.

We’ve had the privilege of working with some outstanding young creatives in Hackney and this exhibition pays tribute to them. Young people have had creative input through all aspects of its creation... the exhibition is an opportunity to showcase their enormous talents.

DD: What do you hope to achieve with the exhibition?
Katy Dawe:
The exhibition is a call to action. We want the whole community to join up and share resources to support young people on their doorstep. The exhibition showcases what can be done when we all work together. FYI has been a year long project- but we don’t want it to stop here. We need support to develop the project.

DD: Do you think this is something that Art Against Knives will do again?
Katy Dawe:
We have a whole programme of creative opportunities and workshops that are run through OurSpace. We believe that providing a platform to showcase the outcomes to the rest of the community is vital, it provides young people an opportunity to see how their creative skills are translated into the real working environment and offers experience and contacts to support and encourage them in their chosen positive activity.

Dazed Digital: Why did you get involved in F.Y.I?

Kayla Whiting, 21:
I got involved in F.Y.I as I thought it would be a great experience and an amazing project to be apart of as it is helping young people to showcase their talents.

DD: When did you first become interested in AAK? 

Kayla Whiting:
I became a part of AAK a year ago when I met Katy Dawe at a viewing of a short film i produced and directed with a group of other young people. Katy told me about AAk and I was very interested in their goals and visions, I was delighted to be asked to volunteer for them. Since I started volunteering I have been made very welcome and the AAK team have helped me to develop a lot of personal skills and continue to grow in the field of work i desire. I look forward to all the projects to come.

DD: What have you learnt from being a part of the project?
Kayla Whiting:
I have learnt that there are many different fields in the media industry to get involved in and F.Y.I has opened a lot of doors for me and continues to show me new ways of development.
DD: Why do you think it is important to have organization like Art Against Knives in local communities working with young people in the arts?
Kayla Whiting:
I think it is important to have an organization like AAK as they are different to the other youth organizations, they give young people like myself the opportunity to run youth led projects and engage with other young people. They are very supportive and also give you right tools and directions to succeed in running projects. AAK should be used as a template for other organizations to learn from. I feel youth organizations don’t listen to what the young people want but AAK gives young people a voice.

Focused Young Individuals, 6th-12th October 2011 12-5pm, The Rebel Dining Society, 30 Vyner Street, Hackney E2 9DQ